The whole produce department reminded me of Chile. The waxed apples reminded me of the Chilean corner stores that carried the non-waxed kind. The sticks of cinnamon reminded me of Pollo's grandma who loved cinnamon in her tea. The grapes reminded me of how Pollo would buy fruit for me—a simple gesture of love. The ginger root reminded me of Kanke's tea. It must've been a sight, me holding ginger root to my cheek and muttering, "Ah, Kanke, making chai...."
But as I filled my cart with mountains of food and canned goods, I felt more and more disappointed. Where was the restrained Cathy happy with a backpack of food?
Really, the whole store was not only a reminder of how it had been in Chile, but it was also a reminder of how I had been in Chile.
Can you miss yourself even though you're always with you?
See, I feel like I lived differently in Chile. It was closer to a yoga life, more detached from material goods. I didn't have TV to remind me that I needed to look prettier or be thinner or richer. I didn't feel the desire to possess things so acutely. Here, staying detached is not so easy.
I've already gotten worked up into a frenzy of money worries—and it's not like I have a job yet or have to worry about rent. I feel more pressure with each monster house I see, all the pristine lawns and the shiny new cars. I feel it when I see $200 haircuts, highlights and nails. I feel it in the presence of TV, People magazine, and Starbucks. It is a pressure to conform and consume.
Country economies are based on consumption. The money I make freelancing is based on someone consuming something. But Americans, we take it to a whole new level. It's like having a genie in a bottle. Ask and it appears.
But we pay a price for having everything, too. Perhaps we develop a fear of losing our stuff. Or a fear of change rises within us. Or we choose not to follow our true path because we can't figure out how to maintain our stuff and our dream. The worst payment that we pay for this lifestyle is a small nagging feeling that, after all our buying and consuming, there's still something missing.
Before I left for Chile, I had that feeling. I had the $200 haircuts, a purebred dog, the cleaners, clothes shopping as a way to advance my career, a town filled with ubiquitous Hummers and Mercedes. I was happy to consume, but I couldn't get rid of that feeling. And in deciding to move to Chile, it was as if I had been running on hamster wheel, next to all the other people running on their hamster wheels and suddenly asked the forbidden question, “Why am I doing this?” And that something-is-missing feeling left and did not return until I came back here.
So the question remains, do I stay and reshape my life here? If I stay, my habits will need to change. After all, once you know, you cannot unknow. And how much do I pay attention to the advice being given to me by friends and family?
It reminds me of this quote from the movie The Secret: “When the voice and vision on the inside is more powerful, clear and loud than the opinions on the outside, you have mastered your life.”
As I try to master my life, I see that beneath the question of Chile versus America is a deeper issue: will I choose to live for others or for myself? Though I am not certain where I will live, I know one thing. I must walk my path, regardless of the opinions on the outside, regardless of how loudly their own fear speaks.